“And the kick is GOOD! She drills it through the uprights with no time left on the clock! They’ve won the Super Bowl!” Wait. Did that say. . . Go ahead, reread that again. SHE won the Super Bowl. Sound like a dream? Fast forward a few decades, maybe Super Bowl 75. Maybe sooner.

Becca Longo is a senior in high school who just took a monumental step in making that dream a possibility. This spring, Longo became the first ever female athlete to receive a college football scholarship, signing with NCAA Division II Adams State. When asked about his willingness to recruit a girl for a traditionally man-dominated sport, the Grizzlies Head Coach Gerald Todd insisted recruiting Longo was alike “any other athlete”, noting how impressed he was while watching Longo kick during a prior visit.[1]   The record shows the workout was no fluke; Longo was excellent during her fall season, connecting on 35 of 38 extra points.[2]  Both Todd and Longo expect her to compete right away as Adams State has two current kickers on their roster.[3] “I’m ready,” noted Longo.

Although a historic moment in college football, Longo is not the first female to play the sport beyond high school. According to ESPN, there have been around a dozen or so women that have played college football, though zero were ever recipients of a scholarship on the gridiron. Most notably, Katie Hnida played for two division one teams, Colorado and New Mexico.[4] Ironically Todd’s brother, Everett, was an assistant at New Mexico at the time.[5] In 2002, Hnida was the first woman to appear in a Division I college football game, however had her only attempt blocked.[6] One year later, she became the first female to score in the same medium.[7]

Longo, Hnida, and the handful of other women who’ve played football in college may seem like anomalies. On the gridiron they might be, though others may see a trend blooming into something much larger. If females can make it in football—college sports’ biggest stage—who’s to say they won’t make it in one of the “big three” (NFL, NBA, MLB) someday? Maybe a stretch, at least in the foreseeable future, but hear me out. Kickers have far more longevity in their careers (4.87 years) than any position in the NFL and almost twice as much as the NFL average (2.66 years).[8]  If the NFL is too-far-gone, let’s talk about some upcoming stars relative to the remaining two-thirds of the big three.

Baseball is a sport, when compared with football, requiring far less physical stature to succeed. Only a few years ago Mo’ne Davis torched the Little League World Series, being the first girl to ever pitch a shutout and win the title.[9]  Basketball, unlike either of the former sports, has long had both women and men’s leagues. Because of the nature of such, there have been countless debates (both on and off the hardcourt) about the possibility of a woman playing in the NBA. The paramount to this argument seems to always come down to dunking, as there have only been a handful of jams in WNBA history. The word “dunk” when paired with women, brings two notable names to mind: Lisa Leslie and Brittney Griner.

Well, women dunking may be far less a rarity than it has been, thanks to Francesca Belibi. Belibi became the first girl to dunk in a high school game; and she’s done so in multiple games.[10]  Extraordinary considering she picked up a basketball for the first time as a high school freshman. Oh, and she’s only fifteen years old. Although there still is a long way to go before these young women achieve professional status in a man-dominated sport, there have been a number of women who have already achieved that mark.

Women have found success in baseball, auto racing, tennis and boxing. In 1931 Jackie Mitchell pitched for a minor league team.[11] Although many saw Mitchell as a publicity stunt, she successfully demonstrated her abilities during an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. The then 17-year-old female threw heat against two of baseball’s greatest to ever swing a bat, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Mitchell struck them BOTH out on only seven pitches.[12] Auto Racing holds another example of this as it has largely been a sport dominated by men, though Danica Patrick never let that slow her down. Patrick has become a household name after winning the Indy Japan 300 and finishing 3rd at the historic Indy 500 in 2009.[13]

In 1973, with $100,000 on the line, tennis legend Billy Jean King whooped pro Bobby Riggs in straight sets in front of 30,000 fans.[14]  For those that still don’t believe these sports are great portrayals of the physical discrepancy between the sexes, you must have never heard of Jackie Tonawanda. Nicknamed “The Female Ali”, Tonawanda boxed in the heavyweight division during the 70’s and 80’s.[15]  However her most famous pro fight came in 1975 when she knocked out Larry Rodania in the second round.[16]  Although this is nowhere near a comprehensive list of women who have participated in men’s athletics, it is a highlight of some who have paved the way for those seeking to do the same, and more, today.

As Longo, Davis, and Belibi have created a great anticipation towards what they could be poised to accomplish, we are reminded that a plethora of females have found fortune in competition against men. Had those in the past not been faced with the discriminatory obstacles of both social and civil issues, perhaps we would already have coed big three professional leagues. As we ponder on the thought of coed collegiate sports another question comes to mind: where does Title IX’s role come into play?

One of the many purposes the federal rule possesses is ensuring equality amongst men’s and women’s athletic teams and scholarships. There are a predetermined number of scholarships each team is allowed based on the number of scholarships the reciprocal sex’s teams receive. How will the dispersion of scholarships be affected if other coaches and universities follow suit and begin awarding women athletic scholarships in traditional men’s sports?

Perhaps Title IX will be revamped and disperse scholarships based upon number of overall participants rather than sport-by-sport. Or perhaps the integration of sports will lead to the abandonment of this particular portion of the rule. The future of women in men’s sports will likely depend upon coaches willing to recruit and coach girls…or as Todd said, “I don’t coach girls. I coach football players.”[17]

 

[1] Kyle Bonagura, Kicker set to become 1st woman on scholarship at Div. II level or higher, ESPN (Apr. 14, 2017), http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/19147671/becca-longo-signs-adams-state-grizzlies-believed-first-female-get-scholarship-division-ii-level-higher.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Ron Dicker, Woman’s Kick Is Blocked, But a Barrier Comes Down, NY Times (Dec. 26, 2002), http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/sports/football-woman-s-kick-is-blocked-but-a-barrier-comes-down.html.

[7] Bill Chappell, Arizona Woman Is Hailed As First Female To Earn A College Football Scholarship, NPR (Apr. 14, 2017), http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/14/523935900/arizona-woman-is-hailed-as-first-female-to-earn-a-college-football-scholarship.

[8] https://www.statista.com/statistics/240102/average-player-career-length-in-the-national-football-league/.

[9] Mirin Fader, How Mo’ne Davis Made Her Hoop Dreams Come True: Inside Life After Little League, Bleacher Report (Feb. 21, 2017), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2693406-mone-davis-hoop-dreams.

[10] Kyle Newman, Regis Jesuit girls basketball star Fran Belibi transforming the game with dunks, above-the-rim athleticism, Denver Post (Jan. 14, 2017), http://www.denverpost.com/2017/01/14/fran-belibi-dunk-regis-jesuit-girls-basketball/.

[11] 9 Female Athletes Who Competed Against Men, Total Pro Sports (Oct. 28, 2011), http://www.totalprosports.com/2011/10/28/9-female-athletes-who-competed-against-men/.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. 

[14] Id.

[15] Jackie Tonawanda, Woman Boxing Archive Networkhttp://www.womenboxing.com/tonawanda.htm

[16] Id.

[17] Chappell, supra note 7.

 

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